Players’ hard work at the heart of Annagh’s successful promotion push

Dean Smith, Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Dean Smith, Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Shea Campbell’s hat-trick and a Matthew Brown finish provided Annagh United with one foot in NIFL Championship One on Saturday - but the champagne had to stay on ice until midweek results officially confirmed the club’s promotion.

The weekend win against Banbridge Town alongside Limavady United’s defeat left Sport and Leisure Swifts as the only side capable of moving beyond Annagh in the NIFL Championship Two standings.

Tuesday night’s match between the Swifts and league leaders Lurgan Celtic confirmed both the outcome of the title and promotion for Annagh.

“It was a great performance and result on Saturday and we knew it would be a big ask for Sport and Leisure to win three away games in such a short space of time, especially with one against Celtic,” said Smith. “It was a great feeling to have it all wrapped up on Tuesday, even if a Celtic defeat would have kept us in the hunt for the league this weekend in our final match.

“Celtic will come to Tandragee Road on Saturday as deserved champions and we congratulate them on that success.

“The league table does not lie and they have been the best across the season.

We will discuss how to move forward in all areas

Dean Smith

“Part of me still wanted to think about the league title on Tuesday but, once everything was wrapped up, I was just gald to be over the line.

“We can enjoy Saturday now then the awards night next weekend after a season of hard work.”

Annagh’s panel has been a work-in-progress project across a number of seasons and Smith puts down that accumulated experience alongside some astute signings as the foundation for promotion.

“I came in alongside Alan Murphy and Darragh Peden in late 2012 knowing it was a great group of players,” said Smith. “What they have given us over the past few weeks is wonderful and the lads deserve every mark of respect and praise.

“Alan is that link with the players and so popular around the club but someone with lots of experience.

“Darragh played his part in those early times then, after his decision to leave, we managed to get Gary McKinstry on board.

“Gary has been my best signing as we are talking about an Irish League manager in his own right who brings so much to the club.

“However, it always comes back to the players as they put in the effort each training night and on matchdays.

“At the start of the season we basically wanted to improve on our previous finish of around fifth or sixth.

“After a few games it was obvious the squad had progressed thanks to another season together and signings capable of bringing extra depth and quality.

“We went on a great run after losing the Bob Radcliffe Cup to Loughgall around Christmas and have something like three defeats just since the New Year.

“That consistency got us into a position to challenge and the self-belief improved with the momentum.

“We had some tough tests in the run-in and reaching cup finals against sides ranked above us in the Irish League has also helped the development of the group.”

Smith, the coaching team and committee now face a summer evaluating how to cope with future challenges.

“We will sit down and look to add to the squad but must also give those who helped us reach this point the opportunity to step up,” said Smith. “That is not about sentimentality but about an honest belief in what we have here, in terms of quality and the group dynamic.

“Financially the clubs around us in Championship Two have been operating on different budgets so that will continue to be the case next season.

“We will discuss how to move forward in all areas but, from a management viewpont, it is always about bringing in the right person as well as the right player.

“You cannot risk ruining what has worked for us up to this point.”

“That is for down the line and the next few weeks will be about enjoying what has been achieved by everyone.

“I have been lucky to win a few trophies in my career as a player and line out alongside some great team-mates.

“However, it really means a lot on a personal level to get Annagh promoted.

“To see how much it means to people connected to this club for so long was really special.

“That family spirit is a massive part of what makes us work and will continue to help us move forward.”

Kick-off tomorrow (Saturday) at Tandragee Road against Lurgan Celtic will be 3 o’clock.